This I believe

On Sunday, March 14th, I delivered my This I believe to the congregation of FUUSN (First Unitarian Universalist Society in Newton). Had it been ordinary times, I would have done it standing the the pulpit looking over the congregation. I don’t know whether that would have have been more or less intimidating. As it was, I was safe in my little zoom box sitting in my study seemingly talking to myself. If you’ve read anything on this blog before, you will recognize ideas and passages. I am grateful that Erin asked me to do this and grateful that I was daring enough to say, ‘yes.’

Good morning.

I hesitated when Erin [Erin Splaine is FUUSN’s minister] asked me to speak today.  After all, I still count my FUUSN membership in months, and I’ve gotten to know so many of you, not in person, but in these little zoom boxes. That could make me just a bit shy about sharing my heart today. And then, I write all the time about what I do and think, but I don’t think I have many conclusions. “This I believe” sounds, at least to me, like the speaker has come to a few conclusions.  Of course, we ask our COA teens to take up this task and they always do it brilliantly. But it seems to me that the older I get the fewer conclusions I have.

There is a line from my husband, David’s last play, the play that was performed a few months after his death. The line goes like this:

Just suppose you are now doing and have been doing for quite awhile exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing.

The first time I really heard that line was during performance and it pierced my heart because in that instant, I imagined it had been written expressly for me.  That line pulled me through some hard places. I trust in its wisdom.

That line has played in my head over and over this past year when I was sad and scared and lonely.  Julia and I were still in the middle of transitioning our lives from our home in the Madison, Wisconsin, to Newton when we shut down.  

We moved to live closer to Cheshire, my older daughter and Julia’s beloved sister.  Cheshire had found a home here and would be married in July in an intimate and charming, yet Covid imposed wedding.  At the beginning of shut down, we quarantined from her and her Justin because Cheshire was visiting patients as a hospice social worker.  

We also moved because high school was beginning to fail Julia and there was writing on the walls in Wisconsin that adult services would be the same.  However, it was a very hard transition.  It was still a challenge sometimes to stand in the middle of the parish hall during coffee hour and look for someone to talk to.  It was still a challenge for Julia to be in a school where she had not grown up with any of the kids and to be without therapists who were a vital support to her in the past.  Shut down meant that we were even without those challenges that put us in touch with people every day.  I remember vividly feeling a particular kind of silence in those first days, a void that comes from having nothing scheduled to do, nowhere scheduled to go, no-one scheduled to see. 

But it was not time to second guess my decision to uproot our lives or to wallow in insecurity or doubt.  I needed to trust in what we were doing, and had been doing, and that was forging new community. And I had to believe in, diving head first, into what ever held this community together.  And sometimes diving in means joining, sometimes it means offering to start something, trusting that someone else will want and need what I could give. 

Back in Wisconsin a few years ago, I was immersed in a program called Quest, a home grown faith development program.  About 30 of us spent the best part of two years, attending monthly dinners and integration groups, meeting with spiritual companions and attending 6 retreats.  We were engaged in many serious pursuits and in a few silly ones as well.  During one retreat we were asked to consider what our superpower was.  My comrades, wonderful people all, got up and talked about generosity, empathy, kindness, understanding, compassion. I squirmed in my seat. All I could think of was persistence.  My mother had called me stubborn, headstrong, even pigheaded.  So, I was well practiced in persistence. I felt it was minor superpower. Something that the sidekick of a superhero might have.  

This year, however, I have recognized that persistence is something akin to the hope that was at the bottom of Pandora’s box. And I recognized the persistence in so many of you as we have persisted together in reaching for ways to stay connected, to learn, to sing and to celebrate. If not in person, at least together. 

Last Sunday as we were watching the “Stand By Me” video, Julia asked why we were not in any of the pictures—standing around a piano singing Christmas carols, parading with the FUUSN banner, eating in the parish hall or singing in choir. I had to remind her that we were not here yet when most of those pictures were taken, but what delighted me was that she expected to see us.  We have come home.

My favorite metaphor for change is the chrysalis stage of a butterfly.  What a miracle, that a caterpillar makes a container and turns itself into goo, a soup of protein, before it becomes something that is written deep in its DNA.  What does the caterpillar know before hand, and how difficult is it to follow the genetic imperative?  It is as if trust itself is written into its DNA.  

Life asks a caterpillar to submit itself to the soup of protein once. Life is much more generous with us. Living compels us to change. Sometimes we call it reinventing ourselves or retooling our narrative, and we usually manage to change careers, lose friends, relocate far from community. We even transform after hearing a dream-altering  diagnosis of a beloved child.  We change, I changed over and over, not always nibble-ly, but slowly with optimistic persistence. 

But then, there was death,  of my beloved partner, my David, and the chrysalis metaphor felt to be a reality.  I did what needed to be done every day, for so many days, almost believing that it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing, almost trusting I would find some kind of butterfly transformation.  And I did, with my own brand of persistence and with beloved community—a church, a neighborhood and a whole bunch of PTO moms. 

And this year, that we have all just lived through has been a chrysalis time. I don’t mean that our Covid quarantine hit me like death, although there have been deaths and great sorrows.  We have, however, had to endure this time alone.  The chrysalis no longer just a metaphor.  

And this is when I hear David’s line: 

Just suppose you are now doing and have been doing for quite awhile exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing.

We had no choice but to supposed, after the fear and panic, when persistence really set in, when we became comfortable with our own soup of protein, we began the doing, even though we had no assurance of hearing butterfly wings.  We had only trust and we had the doing.  Now, in hindsight I do not doubt that this year apart, this year without handshakes and hugs— and gosh, I miss hugs!—that this year has changed us in fundamental ways. Breaking us open to each other—to issues we had taken for granted, nurturing our curiosity, growing our generosity and our compassion.  I hang onto this terrible, wonderful process, that has kept us in our chrysalis, doing exactly what needed to be done to effect transformation, believing with more confidence that trust is written deep into our own DNA, and that from our soup of protein, we will emerge from the chrysalis, together, with wings.

One thought on “This I believe

  1. You are a beautiful writer about your journey and life with Julia. I hope to meet both of you soon.

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